Riding the safety train

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 1999

While 16 drivers beat the train in Albert Lea yesterday, they couldn’t avoid the police.

Friday, August 20, 1999

While 16 drivers beat the train in Albert Lea yesterday, they couldn’t avoid the police.

Email newsletter signup

Albert Lea patrol officers and Freeborn County deputies issued 16 warnings to drivers who failed to stop for a train at city crossings between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon.

The train – a single engine – traveled the Albert Lea tracks Thursday as part of Operation Lifesaver, an awareness program aimed at train safety.

Robert Resch, organizer of the local operation that coordinated police and train personnel, said the local test of drivers was sparked by a visible need.

&uot;Several of our engineers who travel through on freight trains said there were too many near misses (in Albert Lea),&uot; he said.

With 116 train-vehicle collisions and 14 deaths in the state last year, the Union Pacific Railroad employee said awareness needs to be raised locally.

Conductor Ron Gardner and Engineer Tom Wolff, conductor and engineer agreed. They said they’ve seen too many cars nearly miss a collision that could take a life.

&uot;On any given day, I see it all the time,&uot; Wolff said.

They said the 16 cars stopped Thursday seemed low while riding the rail for Operation Lifesaver. Still, the pair said they also expected to see more cars than usual stop and wait because they were in a shorter train, with no freight cars.

&uot;People will usually stop and see how fast we’re going,&uot; he said. They think they can judge our speed, but they can’t.&uot;

He noted that when drivers see a shorter train or a lone engine, they are willing to wait. It’s when the train looks long that many risk passing in front of it.

Gardner said that’s ironic, since a longer train is more dangerous and has less of a chance of stopping if in danger of a collision.

A train’s stopping distance is determined by the weight being pulled along the track. A freight train with 100 cars traveling 55 mph will take a mile or more to stop.

&uot;The reason car-train collisions happen is we can’t stop quickly,&uot; Resch said.

The three railroad employees said the danger of a train collision is why they run drills like Thursday’s. They said their is a need to send a message.

Gardner said it’s especially important because some parents may be sending the wrong message. He said too many children pick up the wrong ideas when they see their parents risk passing in front of a train.

&uot;When they see their parents run the track, what does that say,&uot; he asked, adding that he’s seen too many children not pay needed respect to a passing train.

&uot;It just about gives you a heart attack,&uot; the conductor said of seeing children to close to the tracks.

Local law enforcement agreed more awareness is needed.

&uot;I don’t think people are aware when close is too close,&uot; said Officer Rodney Davis, who road on the engine during Thursday’s test.

A former railroad employee, Davis said he wasn’t too surprised by the number of people seen passing too close in front of the train.

&uot;Most people are just not aware of the dangers,&uot; he said.

With the most violations seen on the west tracks that pass homes and cross side streets, Davis said that’s where he expected to see some of the violations.

&uot;The residential areas are by far the worst, because people just don’t pay attention,&uot; he said.

But, Albert Lea Lt. Glen Larson said he was a bit surprised that only two cars were stopped after the train cut across the intersection of Broadway Avenue and Front Street.

While he expected the number of violations to be higher, he said the time of day and limited traffic probably kept numbers down.

Still, he noted that the 16 drivers stopped were only part of the total violators spotted yesterday. Others got away because of traffic and limited patrol cars.

&uot;They didn’t evade us,&uot; he said. &uot;With traffic we just couldn’t get them.&uot;